Encouraging, not mandating, the vaccine? Beware choosing an unlawful incentive.

There is plenty of evidence that most employers want most or all of their employees to be vaccinated against COVID. The big fear: That a workplace COVID outbreak could force another round of lockdowns. Widespread vaccination of employees is the best way to prevent that.

Although the tide is turning somewhat as the Delta variant surges, most employers are still stopping short of mandating that all their workers must get the vaccine.

A popular work-around has been to encourage vaccinations by offering incentives to employees. Here's what works and what can cause trouble:

Nominal incentives. Offering a small token of appreciation such as a gift certificate to a local business is usually fine. So is offering a reasonable amount of paid leave so employees can take time off to be vaccinated and recover from any side effects.

Just be sure you also offer the same token rewards to employees who cannot be vaccinated because of disability or religious or moral objections. You don't have to offer up rewards for those who refuse the shots for other reasons, unless a state or local law requires you to.

Bigger prizes. It's risky to offer a sizeable gift, which could run afoul of the EEOC wellness incentives rules. This is especially true for employers big enough to sponsor in-house vaccination drives.

The EEOC takes the view that large prizes may...

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